Professor Ann Jervis Speaks in China during Reading Week
Tuesday December 15th, 2009
In the late fall I travelled to mainland China to deliver lectures in philosophy departments of three of China’s top universities. In Shanghai I lectured in the department of European Philosophy and Culture (at Tonjii University); in Nanjing, in the Institute of Jewish Studies (at Nanjing University); and in Hangzhou, in the Institute of Christianity and Cross-Cultural Studies (Zheidong University).
My lectures were on Paul’s ethics read through the lens of virtue ethics – a preview of the book I am writing (Love’s Labour: Paul’s Ethics Read Through the Lens of Virtue Ethics).
My hosts were distinguished professors at each of these universities; erudite, well-travelled, and full of energy and good humour. We had meals together every day, often with graduate students. Apparently this commensality is part of normal life. I had the great privilege of feeling somewhat embedded in their academic culture for the time I was there. I found the culture to be lively and warm – the discussion was both about ideas and each other’s life situations. There was a lovely and notable ease between the graduate students and their professors, due in part, I think, to their regular mobile phone contact and eating together – perhaps the endless variety of tastes and presentations of the food also contributed!
The lectures were stimulating for me. I hope they also were for those who attended! Most of the audience knew very little about Paul. The majority thought of him as a Jew. Some knew that he was significant in Christian history. It was very refreshing to talk about the apostle in such an environment.
I was interested to find out when I arrived that I was billed as an academic and a priest. I had presumed that my commitment to Christianity might be something that my hosts would have felt constrained to hide. One of the results of being known as a Christian academic was that I was regularly asked questions about my faith. One of the typical questions was: how I was able to do academic work on something to which I had an emotional attachment.
My hosts arranged for me to have company all day, every day. This was good in many ways, and allowed me to see some special sights through the eyes of very intelligent and kind ‘guides’. I travelled on my own by train between the cities - a great adventure! Hangzhou is a particularly beautiful city, and Nanjing immensely interesting. I found Shanghai to be overwhelming – New York City on steroids.
I am immensely grateful for the invitation to do these lectures – an invitation which came from the Sino-Christian Institute in Hong Kong. And I am also thankful to the kind benefactors from the Anglican Diocese of Toronto who helped make this possible.